What is it?
Do you ever get carried away when you come across a super cool piece of technology and immediately start thinking how you could use in in your ESL classroom?. Aren’t we all as teachers ready to embrace shiny, new ideas and technologies? I know I am. Developments within the last few years have now enabled Virtual Reality headsets to be available to the general public. One of the most popular and reasonably priced options on the market currently is the Google Cardboard. This self-assembly cardboard mask is used in conjunction with a Smartphone to produce a 360° Virtual Reality environment. The design is open source so you can downloaded and build it yourself or buy it from Google for around £15.00. Once this is done all you have to do is download a compatible app onto your phone, insert it into Google Cardboard and away you go!
Does it have practical use in the language classroom?
When I first saw this relatively inexpensive way of bringing Virtual Reality into the classroom, I was really impressed and immediately thought it was something that learners in an ESL classroom could use There are a number of apps available to download and use in addition to media via YouTube. The content of these apps is not aimed at language learners, but allows viewers to discover different places in the world, have virtual tours of museums and historical sites as well as observing historical events. Therefore if this medium is to be used in language learning classroom it is left to the teacher to identify how best to use it.
Very little information currently exists as to whether it is being used or how it could be engaged for language learning.My own thoughts are that it could be used as part of a blended learning approach to support what is being taught in the traditional classroom, perhaps as part of a writing task, learners take a tour and then write an information leaflet about the sights they have seen. These could then be used as part of a larger class project, for example a museum or travel guide. Learners could also give short presentations on historical, sports or current events they have observed. This would allow a range of skills to be used throughout the activity such as observation, note taking, drafting the presentation and finally giving it to the class. It could be argued that this use of the technology allows learners to be more active participants in their learning, choosing what they would like to observe/report and therefore having more interest than constantly relying on ESL textbooks.
Cost – Not excessively expensive and it can be made yourself – Maybe making them could be part of a class task, following instructions to build the glasses.
Novelty – learners tend to engage and be more stimulated by something new. This definitely has the novelty factor.
Apps – The majority of apps are free or available through other platforms such as YouTube.
Allows learners choice in what they would like to look at, discover and talk or write about.
Cost – as a single unit the cost is relatively low, however for a larger class it may be prohibitively expensive.
Smartphone – not every learner may have access to a Smartphone.
Durability – just how long will a cardboard mask last in a classroom?
To summarise, I believe that VR technology is a really interesting and forward thinking technology to use in the classroom. We are at a very early stage of it’s use in the language learning classroom, but never the less, I believe this is an exciting and forward thinking development in the ESL classroom. What do you think? Please post your comments.